A  History of Classic Racing  50cc Motorcycles


Franco Ringhini

Franco Ringhini (pictured in 1973) was gifted with a love for engineering and the fast motorcycle, competing for twelve years in Italy and throughout Europe with machines, varying in cubic capacity from 50, 125 and 250. At the same time, he distinguished himself in the field of the design and fine-tuning of these two-stroke machines due to his innate vocation for the further development of these engines.

It was known that at the early age of fourteen years, he could be seen in his home in Milan, where he was born, tinkering around with his first motorbike while at eighteen he had entered the Bianchi research workshop, where he remained until the Blue and White team colours withdrew from competitions. Picture: 1957 Bianchi 175cc Tonale Racing Motorcycle 

After a brief spell in England from 1956 to 1958 (again in the motorcycling field) he returned to Italy and worked for ten years (until 1967/68) in the Guazzoni research, development, and racing department. While he was there, he designed many innovative and competitive race engines for go-karts and later the Guazzoni moped range.

On leaving the Guazzoni company he was approached and joined Morbidelli. This was a woodworking factory, the owner of whom had his own race team. While here Franco designed a string of fast disc-valved two-strokes. He was given the title as a test rider, designer and became the teammate of Eugenio Lazzarini. This enabled him to go Grand Prix racing. In the late '60s, once established in the Morbidelli fold as the head of their competition department, Ringhini became the man largely responsible for the early Morbidelli machinery leading the world in small capacity high performance two stroke power plant designs.

No mean racer himself Ringhini carried on where the big Jap factories left off when they departed from grand prix racing in the late 60’s, utilising the disc valve induction to good effect. The Ringhini designed Morbidelli 50cc racer was the factories first successful GP machine and that was followed a year later in 1970 by the similar configuration 125cc twin, setting out, in the process, the basic design for the eighth of a litre class that would remain for nearly two decades with the inline, twin cylinder, water-cooled, disc valve induction engine being imitated by most of the manufacturers, certainly the successful ones anyway, within that period.

This photograph is of Lazzarini on the 1969 Ringhini designed Morbidelli with Agostini speaking and Ringhini holding the board.  This picture is from the Elsberg Tuning web page.

During the 1972/73 seasons a new four-cylinder 350cc machine, again using a two-stroke based approach, was being developed by Ringhini but many insurmountable problems with the design eventually caused a rift between the Morbidelli concern and their former star man. This was a project of which Morbidelli's management disapproved of and a factor which contributed to Ringhini's resignation, this with the arrival of Jorg Moller as new designer at Morbidelli caused Franco Ringhini to packed his bags and set up on his own in the motorcycle racing arena.: all this was towards the end of 1973.

Working from this small workshop, in that hot bed of Italian racing talent based around Pesaro just south of Rimini, he began building and forging the ideas contained within his head. It was from this locality that this beautiful 50cc racing machine, detailed below on this page, was born. He had made his name in the industry and his business grew.

The 1973 50cc Ringhini

The 1973 50cc Ringhini

He found the funding necessary to continue his four-cylinder design which eventually proved to be immensely fast and powerful, finishing fourth in its first ever grand prix although ignition problems, but the rule changes of 1982, prevented it from ever showing its true potential.

Most people would have been depressed by this rule change situation, but Franco was not deterred and simply created a 250cc inline twin by cutting the square four 350 in half vertically and making larger diameter bores to increase the capacity. The bike showed some promise which was that it commanded a third fastest laps in practice at its Mugello debut, but unfortunately crashed during the race.
but 250 racing had become big business with the major Japanese factories, along with Aprilia, Rotax and suchlike developing phenomenally advance quarter litre missiles.

The designs Ringhini created were always brave, pioneering and most importantly, staggeringly fast. Being mainly hand built in small numbers, and with largely underfunded development, Ringhini race bikes now rank amongst the rarest of all GP machinery.

As history has shown, Morbidelli's Ringhini-designed 50cc racer was that factory's first successful Grand Prix project, although the team collected points at only a handful of rounds in 1969. Lazzarini finished the season 21st in the World Championship with six points, while Ringhini finished 26th with five. Ringhini also designed Morbidelli's first 125cc racer, which Gilberto Parlotti rode to good effect in 1970, its debut year, winning that year's Czechoslovakian Grand Prix.

Now independent, Ringhini created a limited series of 50cc racers such as the exquisite example offered here, Franco also supplied engines to other manufacturers such as Bimota and by this time, the FIM's rules for the 50cc category stipulated a single cylinder and a maximum of six speeds in the gearbox; Ringhini's design for this displayed motorcycle has the bore/stroke dimensions of 40x39.6mm for a capacity of 49.7cc, and develops its maximum power output of 14bhp at 14,500rpm.

Its cylinder inclined forwards, the engine is housed in a tubular steel frame with telescopic front fork and swinging-arm rear suspension, equipped with a 180mm double-sided front drum brake, 130mm single-sided rear brake and 18" wheels. The complete machine weighs in at a mere 60kg (132lb).

The 1973 Ringhini GP Racing 50cc

My thanks to Bob Dowey of Jaybob Racing, the Historic 50 Racing Club  and Phil Aynsley for the basis of this part of the page. 

From Bob Dowey: Finally Jaybob Racing can announce that the ex-Morbidelli museum GP racing 50cc Ringhini has finally been restored to full running order and had a cosmetic makeover to boot.

The three year quest to bring this bike back to the track began when it was bought at the Bonham's auction held at Stafford Classic Bike show in September 2020. It's not an experience I would care to repeat. For those club members who have never bought at auction there are several pitfalls that prospective buyers need to be aware of. Picture: The Ringhini 50 in the Morbidelli Museum. Phil Aynsley.

Firstly beware that all that glitters is not gold, and the camera does lie!  The bike was bought solely on the catalogue description and still photo's and online video.

The moral here is don't bid/buy on any machine that you haven't seen and thoroughly inspected for yourself. I won't again. The auction house will naturally gloss the machine's description up, but will also mitigate any pitfalls and absolve themselves by stating at the end of the description that the machine will need careful recommissioning before being ridden, and that covers a multitude of sins. As it did in this case.

The second and shocking realisation is the hammer price is not what you end up paying for the bike - far from it. After paying the buyer's fee, VAT on the fee, storage costs, transportation costs to a safe storage facility in Southampton, (until the bike can be collected) then finally the couriers fee for finally delivering the bike the hammer price had risen by over 40%!

When the bike was finally delivered it was obvious that it had suffered from being a static exhibit in a museum for thirty years or so. This is where the camera does lie syndrome comes in, whereas the bike was correct and it was all there (as you would expect from a museum piece) cosmetically I considered it's condition to be poor.

Photographed in Pesaro, Italy. 2011. Morbidelli Museum.

Mechanically I had been assured by the auction house that the motor was free, it did turn over, and all six gears were present in the gearbox. This proved to be true, but that was as far as it went.

Try as we may Jay and I failed to get a spark, advice in the shape of Ian Plumridge was sought. The bike carried a Krober six volt electronic ignition system. Ian had successfully campaigned a 50cc Kreidler during the seventies using this system, or as we were to discover the improved twelve volt system. When Krober first brought this system out in the early seventies it was the six volt system that this tiddler carried. Ian said this has proved troublesome from the start and after a year or so Krober had changed it to a twelve volts unit - which cured the problems.

Easy peasy then, we would buy a new twelve volt system, fit it and away to go as it were, ah no not so. Ron Ponti (if ever a man needed to be beatified) advised us which system to order from HPI in Belgium, and in the interim sent down two six volt coils for us to fit in case we were just experiencing a duff coil. (Not the case.)

By now the cosmetic side of things had been taken care of the tank, fairing and seat had been painted, the seat also been recovered by a local artisan Stan Leather, (yes it's true Google him.) but of course it steadfastly refused to run.

We had taken the bike to Prescott in 2022 (the first meeting after the Covid lockdown.) Where it still sulked, and tribute has to be paid here to Ian Plumridge and Alan Leeson, who gave up their day to work tirelessly on this 'miniature would be Italian stallion', all to no avail, (see attach photo's.)

Over the coming months the fibre optic telephone cables between South Wales and West Sussex glowed as Ian, Jay and I sought to bring this reluctant tiddler back to life. Finally Ian approached Ron Ponti and he agreed to work his magic on this sullen would be flyer. November of last year saw Jay and I

make the long drive up to Essex delivering the complete bike to Ron. When Ron stripped the motor the resulting phone call news wasn't good, it was obvious that on acquiring the Ringhini, Giancarlo Morbidelli had only wanted it as a static exhibit in his museum, the engine had been assembled with old worn parts and indeed didn't even have any gaskets present. However Ron was confident that what man had made once he could make again.

A further unforeseen setback occurred a month later when Ron suffered health issues, remarkably he recovered from this in record time (I know because I've been there.) and in mid January recommenced work on the motor. And by the beginning of February the engine was back in the frame and miracles of miracles was revving it's head off as the short video proves.

The bike is back here now in South Wales, all that is needed to complete what has been the most challenging and frustrating restoration that Jay and I have undertaken to date is to obtain a new 16,000 range 12 volt Krober rev counter from HPI (the original is 6 volt) and collect the original water temperature gauge from the specialist firm who are currently restoring it. It's first public appearance is planned for Prescott this June, where

hopefully Ian will (knees permitting) run the hill with it. Looking at it now, I do consider has it all been worth it? And would I undertake such a project again? The answer is unequivocally yes! The only reservation I'd have would be buying at auction, any future bike would have to be really exceptional, rare, and ridiculously cheap before I dipped my toe in that pond again. Finally my heartfelt thanks and gratitude go out to Jay, Ian Plumridge, Alan Leeson, and of course particularly Ron Ponti without who's engineering skills this iconic GP fifty would sadly have remained just an ornament. 

When asked in future, "What is it?" I shall simply reply, ""Why it's a Ponti Fifty of course!"

Bob Dowey. (2023)

Outings of the Ringhini since restoration / recommissioning


The Swansea Classic Show in Wales. After the exhaustive work, detailed in the section above, Jaybob Racing gave the little gem an outing at this show. It drew a lot of attention.

The 1973 Ringhini


25th June 2023 

Jaybob Racing entered the 1973 Ringhini for the Hill Climb at this prodigious meeting.  

If any reader has more information on this machine, that could be included in this page, please contact the Editor.